Before The Wind That Shakes the Barley (2006), Ken Loach had never enjoyed a £1 million UK hit. And although his Irish historical drama passed that milestone in impressive fashion with a total of £3.81 million, it’s worth remembering that 66 per cent of that figure came from cinemas in the Republic of Ireland (the UK and Ireland box offices report as one territory). Despite this modest commercial track record, expectations for Loach’s latest, Looking for Eric, were buoyant. With Eric Cantona providing a marketable element and bookings escalating to 239 screens, the film’s supporters hoped for a mini Slumdog Millionaire.
When the opening-weekend numbers rolled in, Looking for Eric’s boosters were left deflated. With takings of £366,000 and a screen average of £1,532, the film remained a long distance from the hoped-for crossover smash. True, sunny weather that weekend depressed the whole market and the buddy comedy The Hangover provided unexpectedly strong competition at the mainstream end – and Loach’s audience also tends to be more buoyant midweek – but more had been expected. The film worked in arthouses, and in Manchester, Dublin and London, but failed in multiplexes outside those cities.
With takings reaching £630,000 after seven days, and the title holding virtually all of its screens going into week two (if not all its showtimes), UK distributor Icon remains positive. “Possibly we went a bit too wide,” comments distribution topper Hugo Grumbar. “But we were encouraged by exhibitors as well as ourselves that this film did have the potential to break out.” With the benefit of hindsight, Icon’s rivals have questioned the 12 June release date; Grumbar defends his choice as a good opportunity to counter-programme against summer blockbusters. The June date was a week after the end of the football season, and also benefited from the film’s recent Cannes launch and Cantona’s availability for a UK promotional tour, with premieres in Manchester and Dublin.
Icon bought television spots in the north-west for the finals of the FA Cup and the Champions League, and ran a bus-side campaign in Manchester. On opening weekend, the six top-performing sites were all in that region. But anecdotally, it seems that Icon’s biggest marketing asset – Cantona himself – also proved a hurdle for some cinemagoers: the film seems to have done particularly badly in cities with strong antipathy to Manchester United.
Sight and Sound, v19 n8 August 2009, pages 9